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"Trouble Makers" - Anarchism and Syndicalism.
The early years of the Libertarian Movement in Aotearoa / New Zealand


This pamphlet is not meant to be an introduction to anarchism. It is a brief outline of some of the groups and people who became associated with anarchism and revolutionary unionism before the outbreak of World War One in Aotearoa. In those early years the socialist, and syndicalist movement had an incredible influence in this country; a degree of organisation and militancy that has not, I believe, been matched since. Of course the socialist movement of that time bears no resemblance to what passes as socialism today; the super welfare state, and authoritarian state communism. Except for a handful of books, mostly published in recent years, those early struggles remain largely unknown, overshadowed by the events of October 1917, and November 1935 in radical mythology.

This pamphlet is not complete, much of the information we have is very fragmentary and a lot more work needs to be done. I have drawn most of the information from secondary sources. This obviously is not adequate enough and relies on other people's interpretation of primary sources and interviews.

In conversation with others I was told of an anarchist group in Wellington in 1913, "after their meetings they used to have street fights with the coppers. I don't know anything else about them." An old communist... "there was a well dressed fella who carried a book of Bakunin around under his arm when he was talking at street meetings". "There was a family called the Webbs in Auckland who were quite active, also a Sacco-Vanzetti defence committee".

On another occasion somebody told me that there was an I.W.W group active during the 51 Lockout, or that there was a libertarian socialist group in Auckland in the 1950's. And so it goes on. Some of this information we have been able to verify. However our first breakthrough was when a comrade in Germany sent a translation of a page from Max Nettlau's "History of Anarchism" dealing with Aotearoa. This covers the years 1890-1913, the period covered by this pamphlet.

It is also important to point out that not all the people dealt with here called themselves anarchists or libertarians, and even if they did, many of them didn't remain so. But it's what they did and who they associated with that places them within the movement. People have always struggled against tyranny and oppression; nothing new about that, but those who have struggled the most, and suffered the most, very rarely leave behind an account of their sacrifices or their triumphs.

Frank Prebble

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Last modified: August 21, 1999

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